If You Can't Name Your Tribe, You Ain't No Indian. (09/08/2001)

Being confronted for the last 500 years by an alien and hostile ideology, like the one epitomized by Christian doctrine, by one that devalues every aspect of your belief system, and even the bones of your ancestors, as being the product of misguided, if not deliberately demonic, heathenism, has exacted a serious and destructive disintegration of the trust that ought to exist between and among native people in the Americas. That distrust has generated a kind of competition among the survivors of the holocaust that is our current state in which individuals and groups are driven to prove their authenticity as actual natives before they are allowed to voice an opinion or observation about the state of affairs that characterizes our collective condition. This cultural scrutiny, which always demands that you prove your validity to belong to a dispossessed class of people without fundamental rights to exist at all, has taken on a number of bizarre and curious twists.

In the past six months, both recently, only two people who identified themselves as native Americans have responded to the Myth of Eden by sending me an e-mail message. I hate the appearance this statement seems to provoke that I am overwhelmed by e-mail comments, even if only inadvertently by mentioning the fact that I have gotten two of them in the last six months from anyone at all, for the simple reason that I must not allow the malicious impression that Americans of any stripe whatsoever would be caught dead, much less admitting to the fact, that they have read anything that carries with it a title suggesting it is, or might be, philosophy. God forbid. So, to prevent that false and malicious rumor, namely that Americans might be inclined to read something more advanced than the most current entertainment guide, movie listing, sporting events calendar, TV-Guide, and so on, from getting anywhere beyond its current level of idle and meaningless speculation, let me assure you that I am not overwhelmed by comments at all. I hardly get any comments of any kind from anyone whatsoever. Not many, few and far between, nothing worth mentioning, one here one there, could count them on the fingers of one hand.

But, I did recently get two messages from people claiming to be native Americans and I don't mean to imply here either that I have doubts about whether or not these two people were native American-no, no-not at all. I'm certain both individuals were native Americans. I have no doubt whatsoever about that. So then the first message informed me that its author, whose name I have forgotten now, was a member of something called TRIAD, implying, I suppose, by virtue of not explaining what that was or what it meant, that I was expected to recognize the organization to which he/she belonged. The person also implied that he/she was a working member of this group of native Americans and was somehow performing his/her official duties by contacting me via the World Wide Web with the information that he/she was monitoring the Internet for web-sites and web-pages that defamed native Americans. He/she then demanded that I tell him/her the name of the tribe to which I belonged.

Now, given the context reported here, an impression has been created that my web-page is in some way meant, or perceived, as being a defamation of native Americans and that I have been found out by TRIAD's monitor of the Internet. I can, however, redeem myself and my philosophy from this terrible stigma if the tribe to which I belong is on some list of tribes approved by the organization that has set itself up to monitor the Internet. I let all that pass and responded by telling this individual that I had explained my tribal affiliation in a complete and competent manner in the General Introduction to the Myth of Eden. I then suggested that by reading the introduction his/her questions would be answered and that I had, in fact, carefully composed it specifically for that very purpose. He/she wrote back a few days later and again demanded the name of the tribe to which I belonged. I got the distinct impression this individual was not particularly interested in reading material he/she was intent on declaring defamatory toward native Americans but simply wanted and intended to do so unless I could name a tribe that made my opinions valid and non-defamatory.

I usually try to be patient with people who offend me but in this particular case I found it very difficult to ignore the fact that my work was being questioned on the ground that I refused to disclose my tribal affiliation to a total stranger just because he/she believed a connection to TRIAD gave him/her a right to know what it was. Coupled with the fact that I had been careful to explain myself fully anyway, but in a form apparently that was beyond this individual's capacity, I felt compelled to respond according to the level of frustration, if not anger, that such obtuseness demands. I accused him/her of being some sort of Gestapo thought-police intent on exercising control over people who enjoy a full and unfettered right to freedom of speech and informed him/her that no right existed on his/her part to attempt to silence my voice with some vague and groundless assertion that I was not qualified to speak my own mind and my own experience. This freedom of expression is not something guaranteed by the US Constitution either, but is derived explicitly from the very nature of tribal society itself in which every person has a right to speak about any subject whatsoever that affects the well-being of the individual and the group as a whole. Anyone who does not like my opinion, who disagrees with my point of view, has the same right I have: respond with reasonable argument to the contrary. I got a lame response to my question about censorship and have heard nothing more from the Internet sentinel at TRIAD since.

The second e-mail, even a little like the first, had been sent by a person who identified herself as an official of an association somehow affiliated generally with the subject of native American Philosophy. I choose to be vague on this point, even if I know specifically what the organization suggests about itself, for the simple reason that I harbor no ill-will toward this person (as opposed to the sentinel perhaps) and sensed no particular inclination on her part to intimidate me into silence. She said she was "intrigued" by my philosophy and wanted to know the name of the tribe to which I belonged. She was "curious." I thought about answering her in the same way, by referring to the General Introduction to the Myth of Eden, but instead wrote a brief, badly expressed, and only half-coherent summary of my experiences with native American spiritualism. Doing that is never a particularly good idea. Any person's experience with the spirit-world is necessarily something that demands careful articulation due to the nature of the "events," if they can even be referred to with that term, that befall one along the road back to the time of one's ancestors. In my own case, since I would have to lie to say the name of the tribe to which I belong, where I do not know which one of several my maternal grandfather took as his own, when saying any name at all would probably satisfy idle curiosity, I am always forced to embrace the horrible circumstance of not-knowing whenever the subject of a personal genetic identity arises. I always want to say: "If you must judge me in or out of a select group of people who have a right to speak, then do it on the basis of what I have said, not on the strength of my DNA." Put simply: I did not choose to enter the world of the spirits-the spirit of the old man, whoever and whatever he is, chose me. I did everything in my power for fifteen years to avoid the responsibility of being drawn into the old man's orbit. I failed miserably to accomplish that simple task. Now I am expected to give people information on demand that I do not possess.

The point I mean to make here is that native Americans once met each other on an open field of equality without giving any thought to which of two people might have a higher authority to stand on one side or the other of an exchange of ideas. We met openly without hierarchical structures dividing us into this or that category of power, prestige, or authority in what we knew and believed about the nature of the world. We did not look back over our shoulders to see how much or how little we had impressed the other with our words. Part of the destruction of our culture consists of the fact that we must now prove our worth with idle and measureless words, names, and titles, that carry exactly as much significance as the ones Europeans have invented to demean our dignity.

My grandfather was Cheyenne.

My grandfather was Lakota.

My grandfather was Seneca.

My grandfather was Apache.

My grandfather was Quiche.

My grandfather was Crow.

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